January 4, 2009 / 10:40 PM / 9 years ago

Japan geothermal projects pick up after 20 years: report

TOKYO (Reuters) - Several Japanese firms will kick off new projects to build geothermal power plans this year for the first time in nearly two decades, the Nikkei business daily reported on Saturday.

Mitsubishi Materials Corp, Electric Power Development Co, or J-Power, Nittetsu Mining Co Ltd and Kyushu Electric Power Co will lead the way, and the government plans to step up support for geothermal power station development, it added.

With active volcanoes scattered around the country, Japan is well-placed to tap geothermal energy as a power source and the attraction of a domestic source of energy is also fuelling the drive, the newspaper said.

Another reason for the renewed interest may be that geothermal power plants emit far less carbon dioxide than their fossil fuel and nuclear counterparts.

Mitsubishi Materials and J-Power plan to invest roughly 40 billion yen ($433.9 million) and construct a geothermal power plant in Yuzawa in Akita Prefecture, northern Japan.

By tapping hot water and steam around 2,000 meters below the surface, this facility is expected to generate up to 60,000 kW of power and is scheduled to begin operating as early as 2016, the Nikkei said.

Mitsubishi Materials already owns two geothermal power stations, while J-Power owns one.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has decided to set up a study group of industry experts and academics, to compile by April steps to support geothermal power stations, including providing financial assistance for initial investments, the paper added.

A host of projects to develop geothermal power plants kicked off in the 1970s, triggered by the first oil crisis, but as more nuclear power stations were built and fossil fuel prices eased back, the momentum had been lost, the Nikkei said.

Japan now has 18 geothermal power stations in operation, but their aggregate output of slightly more than 500,000 kW accounts for only around 0.2 percent of electricity generated within Japan, it added.

($1=92.19 Yen)

Reporting by Yoko Nishikawa; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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